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Blanket Displays

By Brad Ireland, 4th Virginia, Co.A

I have been to many living histories in my time as a re-enactor. Most of these living histories involve a manual of arms demonstration, firing demonstration, and a drill demonstration. After the Demo, the visitors are often invited back to see the camp and to ask questions. Quite often the camp scene is filled with disheveled blankets spread out around a camp fire or rows of dog tents. What of the personal items of the soldiers?

Blanket Displays can be a valuable tool at living histories and reenactments that can give the visitors a memorable hands-on experience. You can read about how the soldiers marched and camped day in and day out and yet never quite draw the picture in your minds eye of what little the soldiers actually had to work with and what they had to do without in their daily lives. Blanket displays are a window into the daily life of the Civil War soldier that no battle reenactment or drill demonstration can open.

Read the full article here.

How to Make a Richmond Arsenal Musket Ammunition Crate

By Austin Williams, 5th Virginia Co. A

There are many sources from which one can purchase a Federal arsenal musket ammunition crate and there are readily available guides in print and online to make your own. Confederate arsenals, however, are more difficult to locate and I am not aware of any sources for a reasonably authentic Richmond Arsenal crate. This guide will allow anyone with basic carpentry skills to make a Richmond Arsenal musket ammunition crate that is as authentic as available research allows.

Read the full article here.

Guard Duty: A Primer for Civil War Reenactors

By Austin Williams, 5th Virginia

What follows are the most salient points of guard duty, tailored to the circumstances we most often encounter during reenacting events. When improperly executed, guard duty is tedious and boring, but when following the period requirements, it can be a memorable part of your impression of a soldier of the 1860s. For anyone really interested in the intricacies of guard duty, I recommend Instructions for Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers on Outpost and Patrol Duty and Troops in Campaign (1863).

Types of Guards
The guard system used during the Civil War was designed to serve a variety of purposes, ranging from maintaining internal camp discipline to preventing a surprise attack from the enemy. As such, the system as structured around layers of guards. Just outside of the sight of the enemy, a line of outposts of a few men would be posted. These outposts send forward guards to directly observe the enemy, called sentinels if composed of infantry or vedettes if composed of cavalry. Behind this line of outposts and sentinels, a line of grand guards provides support to slow the enemy if he should attack. These grand guards are in turn supported by a line of pickets, which consist of 40 men commanded by a lieutenant. Their purpose is to hold the enemy until the main body of troops has time to form up. The camp of the main body lies behind the pickets and a group of police guards surround the camp of each regiment and are posted at important points within the camp.

It is very rare to see a reenactment which attempts to maintain a line of pickets, grand guards, etc… due to the manpower required. In most cases, when we conduct guard duty during an event, we are portraying police guards. The remainder of this primer will discuss police guards.

Composition and Duties of the Police Guard

Per regulations, the Police Guard consists of the following personnel:

  • One Captain, serving as Officer of the Day (OOD)
  • One Lieutenant, serving as Officer of the Guard (OOG)
  • Two Sergeants, one serving as Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) and the other commanding the Advanced Post
  • Three Corporals, serving three shifts as Corporal of the Guard
  • Two musicians, one located at the Guard Tent with the Officer of the Guard and the other located at the advanced postAt least thirty nine privates, serving three shifts of 13 sentinels. If the regiment is on either flank of the brigade, the guard contains at least 42 privates, as an extra sentinel is posted on the flank of the brigade.

Thirteen sentinels are on duty at a time and are arranged as above. Off duty sentinels remain either at the Guard Tent, which functions as the headquarters for the guard, or at the Advanced Post. The Advanced Post contains the battalion’s prisoners and is commanded by a Sergeant. He will have under his command a musician and nine men. Men assigned to the Advanced Post should be the best of the guard and do not leave the Advanced Post; they do not drill or march with the Battalion and their food is brought to them at the Advanced Post. The Advanced Post positions two advanced guards and a third guard who watches the prisoners and the arms of the Advanced Post off-duty sentinels. All other sentinel posts are relieved by sentinels who remain at the Guard Tent when not on duty.

In reenacting, a guard will more commonly consist of the OOD, a Corporal of the Guard, and sentinels. If less than thirteen men at a time are available to serve as sentinels, priority should be placed on posting guards at the Guard Tent, the colors/arms, and at least one sentinel on each flank and to the rear and advance of the Battalion.

The placement and size of the guard will be determined by the Regimental Staff and the OOG, although no sentinel should be out of earshot of the Guard Tent, either directly or by having closer sentinels relay alarms from distant sentinels. When placing sentinels, each sentinel should be giving a number, beginning with Post No. 1 for the sentinel at the Guard Tent. When calling for the Corporal of the Guard, the sentinel can then relay his position, i.e. “Post No. 3! Corporal of the Guard!”

Rules Governing the Conduct of Sentinels and Their Duties
Sentinels take orders only from the OOG, OOD, Sergeant of the Guard, or the Battalion commander. Unless ordered to march over a particular stretch of ground (“walking a beat”), sentinels may not leave their appointed position for any reason. Likewise, a sentinel must never ground or allow anyone to touch his weapon and should carry it on either shoulder.

When posted, sentinels should be provided with the orders and regulations they are tasked to enforce. All sentinels have the following general orders:

“I am required to take charge of this post and all public property in view; to salute all officers passing, according to rank; to give the alarm in case of fire, or the approach of the enemy, or any disturbance whatsoever; to report all violations of the Articles of War, Regulations of the Army, or camp or garrison orders; at night, to challenge all persons approaching my post, and to allow no one to pass without the countersign until they are examined by an officer or noncommissioned officer of the Guard.”

Additional responsibilities may be assigned based on the sentinel’s assigned post:

  • Sentinel at the Battalion Commander’s Tent: This sentinel has orders to inform the Colonel, day or night, of “unusual movements” in or around the camp.
  • Sentinel at the Battalion Colors: This sentinel has orders that no one may touch the colors except the color bearer or the Sergeant of the Guard if accompanied by two armed men. The colors may not be moved without an escort.
  • Sentinel over the Arms Stacks: These sentinels ensure no one removes a weapon from the stacks without permission from an officer or the Sergeant of the Guard.
  • Sentinels at the Battalion’s Flanks, Rear and Advance: These sentinels ensure no one leaves camp with a weapon unless conducted by an officer or NCO and prevents all NCOs and privates from leaving the camp at night except to visit the sinks. They are also charged with arresting any suspicious people in the vicinity of the camp.

When required by his orders, a sentinel should sound the alarm by calling for the Corporal of the Guard as described above, making sure to state his post number. A sentinel may also sound the alarm by firing his weapon or yelling “Fire!” as the situation dictates.

Sentinels are to be respected by everyone, officers and enlisted. They are not allowed to converse except as part of their official duties. For additional details on the conduct of a sentinel, please see pages 28-39 of Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers.

The guard, as the only group of men in the Battalion camp who are armed at all times, is responsible for rendering honors for general officers and other dignitaries. Since, as reeneactors, we rarely have a guard other than sentinels on duty, this primer will not cover many of these honors, as they involve the off duty sentinels be formed up. As we rarely maintain a guard of off duty sentinels, those interested in learning the procedures for these honors should consult pages 584-586 of Gilham’s Manual.

Sentinels halt and give the following honors at anytime between reveille and retreat:

Shoulder Arms Any officer above the rank of Captain; the OOD; the Battalion’s commanding officer; friendly groups of armed men led by an officer; the Colors of any battalion
Present Arms Any Captains or Lieutenants; friendly groups of armed men led by an NCO

At night, no honors are paid, except to the OOD, who may inspect the sentinels as part of Grand Rounds and upon whose approach, sentinels come to shouldered arms (see Challenging and Grand Rounds).

Guard Mount and Relieving Sentinels
Guard Mount is a daily review and parade between the guard of the previous day and the guard of the new day. As reenactors, we almost never conduct guard duty on 24 hour shifts and generally only provide men for the guard just prior to their guard duties rather than having the entire guard reviewed during a morning Guard Mount. The purpose of Guard Mount is to transfer authority from one OOD and one OOG to a new command team, as well as to inspect the new guard’s weapons. The full description can be found on pages 610-614 of Gilham’s Manual.

Sentinels are to be relieved by the Corporal of the Guard. The relief will march by the flank in two ranks at support arms. The Corporal of the Guard will designate the man in the first rank of the first file as No. 1, the man in the second rank of the first file No. 2, and so on. If the relief passes any officer, the corporal will order the men to come to shoulder arms until the officer is past. When a sentinel sees the relief approaching, he will halt and face the relief at shoulder arms. Approximately six paces from the sentinel, the Corporal will order:

1. Relief. 2. HALT.

The corporal will then designate the man to replace this sentinel and will order than man to come to arms port.

1. Number One. 2. Arms – PORT.

The sentinel will also come to arms port and he and his relief will approach each other and the sentinel relay his orders to his relief. The sentinel and relief will then come to shoulder arms and the old sentinel will go to the rear of the relief column. The corporal will then order:

1. Support – ARMS. 2. Forward. 3. MARCH.

The column then proceeds to the next sentinel until all posts are relieved.

Challenging and Grand Rounds
Challenges are only given at night and are done by calling out “Who comes there?” and coming to arms port. After a challenge, the approaching party provides the countersign, a word given to officers and NCOs of the guard or other individuals authorized to leave the camp at night. Unlike the modern usage, there is no sign/countersign exchange, such as the famous “Thunder. Flash” sign/countersign used during the Normandy invasion in World War Two. Instead the countersign is a single word set by the OOD, and was historically the name of a battle. The following is the exchange as laid out in the manual:

Sentinel: Who comes there?
Approaching Party: Friends.
Sentinel: Halt, friends. Advance one with the countersign.

The countersign should never been spoken above a whisper. If the incorrect countersign is given, the sentinel should call for the Corporal of the Guard.

At night, the OOD will conduct Grand Rounds to inspect the sentinels and ensure they remain alert. He will travel with an NCO and two men. Upon being challenged by a sentinel, the NCO will answer “Grand Rounds!” The Sentinel will reply “Halt, Grand Rounds! Advance, Sergeant, with the Countersign!” The NCO then advances and provides the countersign. The sentinel will then state “Advance, rounds!” and stand at shoulder arms until they have passed.

Instructions for Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers on Outpost and Patrol Duty and Troops in Campaign (1863)
Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States; by William Gilham (1861)
The 1862 Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; by William Craighill (1862)
Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers; by August Kautz (1865)

Cooking on Campaign: A Guide to Period Rations and Food Preparation

Authentic food and correct food preparation enhances any living history and becomes quite an enjoyable activity for a mess of “possums” around the campfire. Still, for many members of the Brigade, authentic cooking is viewed as quite daunting and many are discouraged from even trying to cook while in the field. Fortunately, similar to learning the rudiments of drill in Gilham’s manual, once the basics are mastered, campaign cooking is easy and the benefits are great: correct rations are simple to prepare, affordable to purchase, and make life much easier – and hey, it could even become fun. In addition, utilization of period rations in our haversacks and preparing them correctly (and safely) is critical to accurately portraying a Confederate soldier on campaign. With practice, each living historian can become self-sufficient in the field with respect to period cooking, and combined efforts of messmates can result in tasty, enjoyable meals at events, while being authentic to the time period.

The purpose of this article is to provide a general guide for cooking in the field. Vendors and food source suggestions are provided in the appendix attached to this guide. This guide is not all-encompassing but is written to provide the minimum essentials. Each living historian is encouraged to conduct their own research on vendors, food sources, and cooking techniques.

Mess Gear
At the outset, you need the proper utensils, implements, and storage containers.

Individual Mess equipment – Everyone should have the following items at a minimum:

  • Huck Towels (at least one for food and one for personal cleaning)
  • Poke Bags
  • Tin Cup
  • Tin Plate or Canteen Half
  • Spoon and/or fork
  • Pocket Knife
  • Lye Soap (in a small muslin bag works best)
  • Match Safe
  • Haversack
  • Canteen

Optional Individual Items and Extra Necessities for Dog Robbers/Foragers:

  • Linen, muslin, or cotton rags
  • Peach can with bail
  • Small skillet
  • Small hatchet
  • Forage Bags (for dog robbers/foragers)
  • Extra Haversack (for dog robbers/foragers)
  • Small burlap sacks (for dog robbers/foragers)

By way of background, “dog robber” is a period term for the member of a mess most often charged with cooking and/or foraging.

Mess Equipment
When portraying a Confederate infantryman on the march, it’s important to remember that less is more. If a static camp is used for an event, then more leeway is available. If we are going to march and fight for the entire weekend (like at McDowell or Burkittsville), then only bring what you and your messmates can easily carry (i.e. a spider is unrealistic, but a one quart camp kettle or small coffee pot can easily be attached to a knapsack or bedroll). Mess items include such things as:

  • Hot Tin Dipped Camp Kettle (one quart “nesting” variety that can be carried on march)
  • Skillet (small or medium sized to fit in haversack or strapped to back of knapsack)
  • Spider (for static camp impressions)
  • Small coffee pot (small enough to strap onto back of knapsack)
  • Medium or large size Wooden Spoon

Food Storage
The most important aspect of proper use of period rations is correct storage. Nothing can kill a period scene for a spectator (or other event participants) and ruin the atmosphere of a living history/event if an otherwise period looking living historian reaches into his haversack and suddenly pulls out a bag of potato chips, food wrapped in plastic, or other modern food items.

All food items should be stored in poke sacks, wrapped in huck towels, or otherwise stored with period wrappings, such as muslin. Brown paper is sometimes used by re-enactors, but given that paper was in such short supply in the Confederacy (and especially in the army) during the war, paper wrappings should be kept to the minimum.

Preparing and eating foods that were most commonly issued to Confederates during the war is relatively simple. Most foods that were issued back then are still available for purchase today. These items do not require refrigeration in order too keep from spoiling (no refrigeration in the 1860s!). Even slab bacon can keep in your haversack for a two or three day event without spoiling or causing health/safety concerns. Food rarities to the common soldier in the field, such as cheeses, pies/sweets, fresh foods that require special care in warm weather, should be avoided. In addition to not being very accessible for most soldiers on the march in a campaign during the Civil War, such items require special handling and storage that are not available at events (i.e. access to a cooler with ice, need for plastic wrapping etc), particularly living history programs or events where there is no access to vehicles.

List of Period Ration Items:
It is important to remember that rations varied depending on the time of year (summer, winter, spring, fall) and campaign scenario. These factors impact the availability and selection of food (i.e. seasonal foods and accessibility depending upon wagon transportation, etc.).

  • Salt pork/slab bacon
  • Black eyed beans
  • Long grain rice (unprocessed)
  • Corn Pone
  • Parched Corn
  • Corn Meal
  • Dried Peas
  • Corn (unshucked) and other seasonal appropriate vegetables
  • Goober Peas/Peanuts
  • Salt
  • Coffee substitute (i.e. sweet potato coffee)
  • Cone sugar, molasses or sorghum

Fresh beef would be appropriate for rations on rare occasion. Make sure it’s a poor cut of meat, like rump roast or shoulder roast, not T bones and tender sirloins. Unlike slab bacon which is smoked /cured and will not spoil for up to 3 days before cooking, fresh beef needs to be issued and cooked immediately for health safety reasons.

Corn pone is authentic. Corn bread generally is not. The difference is that corn pone does not rise, while corn bread does. Corn pone, when cooked properly, is harder in substance and will not crumble as easily if stored in a haversack. A corn pone recipe is included below.

Corn meal should be coarse ground – not the fine ground meal sold in supermarkets. Most international food sections of supermarkets have coarse ground. A vendor is also listed below.

Partial List of Period Foraged Items:
Availability of “foraged” items depends upon the season and campaign. These items could be sent in a box from home, foraged from the country side, taken from a federal haversack on the battlefield, or purchased from a sutler if the army was in winter quarters or otherwise stationary. It is important to remember that forage items would be rare and in small quantities, since an army of 20,000 to 80,000 soldiers on the march would strip a countryside clean of food items. Foraged items would include:

  • Corn on the cob (unshucked)
  • Apples (in the fall)
  • Peaches, Cherries (summer)
  • Dried Fruit (sent from home)
  • Spring Onions (in the spring)
  • Potatoes (sweet/yam; red or white)
  • Eggs (boiled eggs will keep for a week w/o refrigeration)
  • Coffee beans (green coffee beans were most common, requiring toasting before grinding)
  • Turnips
  • Baked biscuits/round loaves of soft bread
  • Federal Hardtack

Issuing Rations
For a large group, you can spread out a couple of ground clothes and make individual piles of each food item. The members of the company line up and proceed down the line to receive their portion of each item. The supervising sergeant and NCOs can use a tin cup to dole out equal quantities of the goods from the bags directly to each person receiving rations. Demeanor for rations issue: Be business-like about issuing the rations. The Sergeant (or person running the issue) should be quick and decisive when issuing.

Another method is to buy quantities of cheap muslin that are cut it into handkerchief-sized squares, put the requisite quantity of food stuff in the middle of this square, and wrap and tie it up hobo style. Each person receiving a ration is then given one muslin package that contains equal quantities all food items issued.

Rations can be received in a canteen half, in a cup, in poke bags, or in a piece of cloth – it’s just a matter of a soldier’s ingenuity. Each person should always have at least 4-5 poke sacks and 1-2 huck towels or pieces of cloth in their haversack for rations. Foragers can also store rations for transportation in larger forage bags or small or medium sized burlap sacks. These bags can be tied to a knapsack, tied and hung off of a belt, or even tied to the haversack strap to hang down by the forager’s side while on the march. Again, food storage and transportation on the march is just a matter of ingenuity and creativity in the field. As long as period items are used, just do whatever you come up with that works: chances are a soldier back in the 1860s figured out and used the same method.

Cooking (The Moment of Truth)
Salt Pork/Slab Bacon: Salt pork was often called ‘sow belly’ by soldiers in blue and grey. Salt pork was the most common meat issued soldiers in both armies – a rations staple no matter what time of year. Avoid modern ‘salt pork’ sold in supermarkets – it’s mostly fat and tastes absolutely terrible. Period salt pork is not readily available. The best substitute is slab bacon (which is also better to eat, tastier, and not nearly as salty).

Slab bacon does not need to be refrigerated and can keep in your haversack for up to three days before cooking. Just use common sense if you have raw slab bacon in your haversack (i.e. don’t leave it sitting out in the sun during the summer). You can also cook your slab bacon at home and then store in your haversack for up to three days without a problem.

Slab bacon is generally sold (by the vendors listed below) in 4-5 pound slabs. Upon receipt, simply take the slab out of its plastic wrapper and cut into one half pound or pound pieces. For storage in your haversack, the easiest method is to simply wrap it in a huck towel or place in a larger sized poke bag. Extra slab pieces can be stored in larger sized forage bags.

Slab bacon can be boiled, roasted, or fried.

  • For boiling: place a piece in a tin cup or peach can, add water, and place on the fire. After the meat is cooked through, the remaining water can be used as a base for a broth or stew.
  • For roasting: you can simply place the slab bacon on the end of a stick or bayonet and place over the fire. For cooking for a large group, simply take the slab bacon pieces and put onto a ramrod; next, rest the ramrod on the backside of socket ends of two bayonets stuck in the ground on either side of a fire.
  • For frying: place a piece of slab bacon in a canteen half or small skillet, after a small amount of grease cooks off the bacon into the cooking container, add a bit of water to avoid burning the meat; continue to add water as needed to avoid burning until cooked through.

Black Beans or Field Peas: The most important thing to remember when issued beans in the field is to soak them overnight or through the day (at least 8 hours) in a cup or boiler to facilitate cooking. When preparing beans, simply boil until soft enough to eat. Beans can be combined with rice, or added with other items for a stew or soup.

Hominy: This makes a great breakfast as it is a good idea to soak the hominy overnight (or all day if you plan on making it for supper) before you boil it. Cover the hominy with twice as much water plus a bit extra (one cup of hominy to at least two cups of water or if you want a runnier consistency add more water). Hominy is very bland. You can add a bit of the sugar cone or molasses to this if you want it somewhat sweet or you could add salt pork fat, or both the sweetener and the fat.

Rice: Make sure to use only natural, unprocessed rice. Most stores that sell “organic” foods will have a variety of rice available to buy in bulk. In addition for use with stews, beans, and soups, rice can also be used as a breakfast item. Simple boil the rice until ready, and then add brown sugar and/or molasses. This provides a tasty cereal and plenty of carbohydrates for a long day.

Corn Meal: The following corn meal cooking techniques are listed in a cooking article from the 16th Virginia website (reprinted here with permission from the author, Vince Petty):

  • Corn Cakes (“Corn Dodgers”) – To the corn meal and flour mix add bacon grease and enough hot water to make stiff dough. Pinch or spoon off from the dough enough to pat out into a patty the size of an old silver dollar and fry it in a canteen half (make sure you use plenty of bacon grease) until golden brown and a little crunchy.
    Texas troops in winter quarters in 1861 near Manassas display their fresh baked cornbread.
  • Hoe cakes – To the corn meal and flour mix add bacon grease and enough hot water to make stiff dough. Pinch or spoon off from the dough enough to pat out into a patty the size of an old silver dollar. Instead of frying, prop up a canteen half close to the heat of the fire and bake rather than fry (an ideal method when there is no bacon grease available to fry with). By propping up the canteen half very close to the fire you are using it like a reflector to bake with. It is because these corn cakes were often cooked on the blades of hoes and shovels that they were often called hoe cakes.
  • Ash cakes – When no mess gear is available the ash cake is another option for using corn meal. Prepare your dough as you would for hoe cakes or corn cakes. Once prepared wrap up the dough in corn husks, tie the husks closed and bury in ashes and coals of a fire. Allow to bake for about 30 minutes. Following is one soldier’s account of baking ash cakes: “The next morning we drew bacon and meal from which the commissary had ‘presses’ in the country. This was the first food we had had for three days, except the small ration of beef on the day before, but there was not a cooking vessel of any description in the brigade, so we had to make up our dough on boards, pieces of bark or any flat material we could procure. Probably more ‘ashcakes’ were made in one hour than had ever been made in the same length of time and everybody knows they are hard to beat for bread, but I made an improvement on the style of cooking mine without the unpleasant feature of having it coated with ashes. I found a corn shuck from which the ear had been removed and, making my dough on a broad piece of bark, filled the shuck, tying the end with hickory bark, covered it with hot ashes and coals. My experiment proved a complete success, for when I uncovered it and stripped of the shuck, I had a beautiful ‘pone’ of bread just the size and shape of an ear of corn and I can truthfully say it was the best bread I have ever eaten before or since.” J. P. Cannon, 27th Alabama Infantry.

Dried Peas: Follow the same general process as for cooking hominy and beans (soaking over night or most of the day before putting the kettle or cup on the fire). You do not need to add sugar or salt pork fat as dried peas actually keep their flavor.

Potatoes: Potatoes can be baked in coals; sliced and fried in bacon grease (make sure to add a bit of water to avoid burning); or boiled. Potatoes can be combined with other items for soup or basic stew.

Sweet Potato Coffee Substitute: Put about two heaping tablespoons of coffee substitute in a tin cup, add water and boil the hell out of it. The recipe on how to make sweet potato coffee substitute is included below.

Unprocessed Sugar Cone: Can be purchased in one pound cones. Easiest method is to shatter the cone and divide among your mess mates for storage in a poke sack.

Mess Practices
All mess activities revolve around the Dog Robber and Assistant Dog Robber. They take the lead in food preparation and cooking, but everyone in the mess and/or unit needs to participate. For example, two people should gather firewood, another charged with prepping/cutting the meat or veggies, another messmate in charge of maintaining adequate water supply, and one or two in charge of actual cooking and supervision of the food preparation.

Mess equipment (and you don’t really need very much) should be divided among the messmates while on the march.

A practice that works well for the 4th Virginia is to pre-assign food items to bring. For example, in the 4th VA newsletter before an event, each person attending is assigned one food item: i.e. one or two people are charged with bringing 3-4 sweet potatoes each; one person is charged with bringing rice; another with corn meal; another with spring onions, etc. etc. etc. Generally, only one person handles ordering slab bacon, and then the rest of the messmates reimburse that person their pro-rata share of the costs. Granted, if a person does not show up, then that food item is missing – but when you think about it that would be entirely correct if a messmate carrying rations straggled on the march or was killed in battle, thus rendering his stored food or cooking implements unavailable for the rest of his messmates.

Parched Corn: Parched Corn was also issued to Confederate soldiers. This food item needs to be prepared at home prior to an event. Parched corn is a nice “snack” food, easy to store in a poke bag, lightweight, and perfect for your haversack.

Parched Corn is made by first drying fresh corn cobs until thoroughly dried, and then cooking the dried kernels with a small amount put in a skillet or spider with some bacon. The bacon grease would keep the corn from sticking and the heat would make the small kernels of dried corn swell up and turn brown. Parched Corn is the swollen and browned kernels.

If you can’t get fresh corn on the cob (or don’t want to because of the price and time involved in drying it), then just go buy frozen whole kernel corn at the grocery store. If you have a dehydrator that will simplify drying the corn, but if not, then you can simply spread the corn kernels out on cookie tins and set your oven to 150 degrees and leave the door cracked an inch or so. It will take up to eight (8) hours or more to dry, just be sure to check on it every thirty minutes or so.

Once you get it fully dehydrated, then it’s time to get out your favorite skillet and oil or grease. Almost any kind of oil or grease works, just heat the skillet on a low heat and oil the skillet. Once the skillet is hot, spread the oil around for just a thin coating on the skillet surface. PAM spray also works very well for this.

Next, you should pour in a little of the dried corn; you should have not quite enough corn to coat the bottom of the skillet. You have to constantly stir the corn around so it won’t burn. It takes less than a minute to parch the corn. When the corn swells up and turns a light to medium brown color, it is ready. Dump the corn out onto a plate that has some cloth (or some paper towels) on it to soak up any of the oil/grease that might be left on the corn, then re-oil your skillet and do some more. If you are doing it right it will take several skillets full to make a weekend’s ration but you won’t end up burning any of it. The corn kernels will take a while to dry out. You should allow the kernels to stay out overnight to dry.

Sweet Potato Coffee Substitute: Peel and cube the sweet potatoes. Dry in an oven on low heat (about 150 degrees) for several hours. Afterwards, you can brown the dried cubes in a skillet (do not use oil, just place on skillet). Next, finely grate/ground the dried cubes using a cheese grater or food processor. You can use these grounds for brewing coffee or, for some caffeine content, you can make a mix of three parts sweet potato grounds, and one part coffee grounds.

“Corn Pone” or “Indian Bread”: From Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of over 100 Recipes Adapted to the Times – West & Johnson, Richmond – 1863

1 quart Butter Milk
1 quart Corn Meal
1 quart Coarse Flour
1 cup Molasses
a little Soda (baking soda) & Salt
Mix and Bake

Editor’s note: Mix ingredients together, let batter sit for an hour. Pour batter in greased cake pans and bake in 425 degree preheated oven for 35-45 minutes (though baking in greased cast iron skillet is best – if using skillet bake a bit longer).

You can add more molasses to make it a bit tastier. Note that if properly cooked, this will be harder and more ornery looking than regular cornbread.

Corn Pone in the Field: You can also make corn pone in the field – simply take left-over bacon grease and add to corn meal and a bit of water. Make a dough and place on a skillet on camp fire coals (low heat) and then cover the skillet with another plate or some sort of lid.

Cush: Another Confederate staple made in a variety of ways. One soldiers account:

“We take some bacon and fry the grease out, then we cut some cold beef in small pieces and put it in the grease, then pour in water and stew it like hash. Then we crumble corn bread or biscuit in it [some soldiers made mush or paste of flour or meal and added one of both of these at this point instead of crumbs] and stew it again til all the water is out then we have . . .real Confederate cush.” The Life of Johnny Reb, at pp. 104-105, by Bell Irvin Wiley.

Editors note – you can also add vegetables, like potatoes and/or onions to cush.

Irish Mashed Potatoes: Boil Irish potatoes and green apples together, then mash together, season with salt, pepper, onions, and/or garlic. Wiley at p. 105.

Special Thanks to Greg Schultz (17th Virginia, Co. E/Delmonico Mess) of Michigan for his guidance, information, and recipes; and to Vince Petty for allowing us to use excerpts from his research article on corn meal from the 16th Virginia website.

Equipment Vendors and Food Suppliers
Grocery Items:
Carter and Jasper Mercantile
Excellent selection of period dry goods and food containers

Green Coffee Beans and Cone Sugar:
Jas. Townsend and Son

Hominy and Stoneground Corn Meal:
Blue Heron Mercantile

Slab Bacon Vendors: Each of these vendors will ship slab bacon to your doorstep via two day air delivery. Affordable and reliable. It’s advisable to call ahead to ensure availability. It’s recommended to order at least 7-8 days before an event to ensure it arrives in time for an event. The slabs are packaged in plastic. To prepare for an event, simply remove plastic and cut into ½ or ¾ pound pieces, and put in haversack. Slab bacon will last in the field without refrigeration for at least 3 days.

Scott Hams
Item #55 Slab Bacon

New Braunfels Smokehouse
Catalog Item #394 – Smoked Comal Slab Bacon (4-5 pound slab)
To order by phone call 1-800-537-6932

Edwards Virginia Smokehouse:
Catalog Item # 078B Country Style Virginia Half Slab Bacon (4-5 pounds)

Mess Equipment Vendors:
Carl Giordano Tinsmith
Small Nesting Kettles – One quart with lid and bail

The Village Tinsmith
Small Coffee Pot – Catalog Item #3
Peach Can Boiler – Item # 9
Tin Mucket – Item #10
Tin Plate (copied from original) – Item #20
Tin Dipper – Item #37
Match Safe Tin – Item #50

N.J. Sekela

Making Reproduction Extract of Coffee

For use in a modern-day encampment; a close copy may be made by combining instant coffee and Condensed milk. Condensed milk is the original, thick, heavy-sugar product invented by Dr.Borden in the 1830s. Although other brands may be found, I like to use “Borden’s” brand condensed milk. It brings me just a little closer to the original. Do not use evaporated milk. It is not thick enough and does not contain sugar.

After unsuccessful experiments with liquid coffee and Italian espresso, I tried present day instant espresso mixed with Borden’s or Eagle brand condensed milk. I had to go to several groceries to find instant espresso, but it is out there. I think that this mix makes a very close copy of the original. I think that coffee prepared from ordinary American roast is not quite strong enough. Nestles makes an instant dark roast if you can’t get instant espresso.


Place one half cup of instant coffee crystals in a cup and add a few drops of boiling water.

Use as little water as possible, adding just a few drops at a time. It doesn’t take much water to break down the coffee crystals. When the crystals have barely dissolved, you should have no more than a teaspoonful of water mixed into the half cupful of coffee powder. You can mix the dry crystals directly into the condensed milk but this makes the extract look spotty and it takes more labor to mix.

Next, empty one can of Borden’s condensed milk into a suitable bowl. You may heat the condensed milk slightly in the microwave or on the stove. This is not necessary but will help with the mixing. Now mix the coffee paste into the condensed milk until it is all blended together.

The resultant Extract of Coffee will be a thick paste that looks like liquid fudge. Pack the Extract of Coffee in any suitable container. One tablespoon of the Extract of Coffee, mixed into a tin cup of hot water will produce Civil War instant coffee, as made from Extract of Coffee, one of the most popular but long-forgotten food items issued to the Federal troops.

Reprinted from Civil War Reenactors Forum